What defines a spirit as ‘single estate’? Since there’s no single, unifying designation, we asked folks from six brands to share what the term means to them. Here, they touch on the challenges of this process and reveal why they feel it’s worth the toil…

Field-to-bottle. Single estate. Terroir. We hear these words plenty in the world of drinks. However you choose to phrase it, the desire to grow, harvest, mash, ferment, distil, dilute and even bottle a spirit in your own distillery using only the fruits of your own labour has never been greater, and as drinkers who value high-quality ingredients and authentic production methods, we are lapping it up.

As yet, there’s no official definition for what ‘single estate’ actually means. Does the term merely refer to the raw base ingredient, or does it encompass the entire production process? Does it only count if the distiller owns the estate? And what about botanicals? Clearly, there’s much to discuss about the intricacies of the term, so we asked single estate spirits producers to shed some light on the topic. Here’s what they said…

Transporting freshly-cut sugarcane in Haiti

Clairin Rum, Haiti

There are more than 530 distillers in the Carribean country of Haiti, and they pride themselves on using un-hybridised sugar cane, man-made chemical-free farming, spontaneous fermentation and unfiltered distillation to create what has been hailed as ‘the mezcal of the rum world’. Clairin Rum bottles these unique liquids. We spoke to Daniele Bondi, export manager at La Maison & Velier:

Master of Malt: How would you define a ‘single estate’ rum?

Bondi: In recent years, a few rum distilleries have started to use the term ‘single estate’. There aren’t any official definitions but it refers to raw material grown by one estate. Molasses rums can be single estate if the producers own sugar factories and therefore use their own molasses in their production process. Agricole rhums can also use the term – the juice has to be fresh and come from nearby plantations. If the distillery doesn’t own the plantation, they shouldn’t really be labelled ‘single estate’. The term ‘field to bottle’ applies to rums that use ancestral methods of production. Our Haitian rum, Clairin, falls into this category as each producer is using local ingredients and traditional methods of production – no additives at all – before bottling. The rums really capture the spirit of Haiti.

MoM: Could you talk about the variables within fermenting and distilling that can be used to highlight terroir?

DB: In my opinion, the only way to highlight terroir is to have the most natural production process possible. You should only talk about terroir if the agriculture is clean or organic, the fermentation is wild or spontaneous with wild yeasts, and the final product doesn’t use any industrial processes – a spirit that uses chemicals in its agriculture or industrial yeasts for fermentation should not use the term. Clairin rums are a true representation of their terroir. The rums are made using local, organic sugar cane which is harvested by hand and transported from the fields to the distillery by animals. The rums are created in small shacks using a natural fermentation process and bottled in Haiti. They are a real expression of each distillery and you can taste the terroir of each village and the character of the producer in the glass.

The vodka still at Arbikie

Arbikie Highland Estate, Scotland

Arbikie’s distillery is the epitome of a single-site, field-to-bottle operation. The ingredients for their gins, whiskies, vodkas and more are planted, sown, grown and harvested locally, and mountain-filtered water drawn directly from their underground lagoon. We spoke with master distiller Kirsty Black and distillery director and co-founder John Stirling:

MoM: How would you define a ‘single estate’ spirit? And how significant is the influence of the raw ingredient on the final liquid?

John Stirling: ‘Single estate’ should, as far as possible, mean that the main ingredients for the spirit are grown on-site. There may be minor botanical ingredients that cannot be grown due to climate, but all major ones should be grown on the estate. It’s really all down to the raw ingredient – even large scale neutral spirit producers offer spirit produced from a range of raw materials as they each add their own character and nuances.

MoM: Could you talk us through any unique challenges associated with the distillation process?

Kirsty Black: We practice regenerative farming and look upon ourselves as guardians of the soil. Working with nature and the soil, our challenge is to grow crops that produce our base spirits in the most sustainable way. Replanting juniper that has been virtually wiped off the Scottish landscape, introducing bees and wild bird seeded areas, as well as older heritage barley varieties, are all unique challenges.

Some of Hine’s vineyards in Grande Champagne

Thomas Hine & Co, France

The house of Hine owns an 115-hectare estate in the village of Bonneuil, located in the heart of the Grande Champagne – the most prestigious of Cognac’s six crus – from which they produce a single estate and single harvest cuvée: Domaines Hine Bonneuil. We spoke to Hine’s marketing director, Marie-Emmanuelle Febvret:

MoM: What do you think is fuelling interest in single estate spirits?

Marie-Emmanuelle Febvret: In our global world, going local and purchasing products that have a strong sense of place feels reassuring – more and more consumers want to know what’s in their drink and where it’s come from. When you enjoy a glass of Hine Bonneuil 2008, for example, you know that you can pinpoint the exact village (and even plot!) where the Cognac comes from. So far we’ve released 2005, 2006, 2008 with a new vintage due to be released soon – all aged for nine years in French oak. This Bonneuil cuvée is, in our opinion, the quintessence of what a single estate spirit should be: one harvest, one plot, your own vineyard. A genuine farm to glass approach, unblended and untouched.

MoM: To retain the nuances of the raw ingredient, are there any special techniques or extra steps you have to use?

MEF: At Hine, our philosophy is to preserve the aromas of the grape. We constantly say that a great Cognac is above all a great white wine, from a great terroir. In order to keep the flavours through oak ageing – sometimes more than 60 years! – we choose to limit the influence of wood on the liquid by carefully selecting our oak using strict criteria: fine-grained, low to medium toast. It enables us to amplify the initial aromas coming from our terroir and distillation. This truly defines the Hine house style: fruit-driven and delicate.

Juniper berries at Ramsbury

Juniper berries at Ramsbury in Wiltshire

Ramsbury Brewing and Distilling Company, England

Set within 19,000 acres of North East Wiltshire, West Berkshire and North Hampshire, Ramsbury Estate distillery creates field-to-bottle vodka and gin using its very own home-grown Horatio wheat and local chalk-filtered water. We spoke to Ramsbury’s head of global sales, Mats Olsson: 

MoM: How far does your ‘field to bottle’ ethos extend?

Mats Olsson: We sow, grow and distil the primary ingredients ourselves, monitoring each step from planting and growing, to harvesting and distilling. In doing this, we ensure that these practices are as environmentally friendly as possible. We select only the finest Horatio wheat from our fields. We know exactly in which field the wheat has grown, when it was sown and precisely when it was harvested. Our copper stills use the steam generated by a biomass boiler fed by our own sustainable woodland, and once the distilling is complete, the spent grains are fed to the animals on the farms. We also believe that to be truly single estate we have a responsibility to take care of what we leave behind. The wastewater is cleaned by a wildlife-friendly reed bed system, which then feeds into our lake. Our defining botanical, quince, grows in the orchard next to this lake. By keeping every part of the process within the estate, we not only reduce our environmental footprint, but by nurturing the land that we use around us we can continue to distil the finest gin and vodka for years to come.

MoM: Transparency is crucial, but there are no legal rules or regulations. Are you concerned about producers exploiting this grey area for marketing purposes?

MO: We would very much welcome a more regulatory framework to ensure that consumers have the correct information. We pride ourselves in being as transparent and honest as possible in all our communication. 

Potato fields belonging to Ogilvy

Ogilvy Spirits, Scotland

Nestled in the heart of Angus, Hatton of Ogilvy Farm has been tended by the Jarron family across four generations, since 1910. There, Maris Piper potatoes grow just a short tractor ride from the 32 plate Carter-Head still that turns them into delicious vodka. We spoke to Caroline Bruce-Jarron, co-founder of Ogilvy Spirits:

MoM: What’s driving demand for single estate spirits?

Caroline Bruce-Jarron: There has been a huge drive over the last few years for consumers to know where their food comes from, and this has extended to the drinks that they consume too. Traceability is such an easy thing for producers like ourselves to do, and customers are always really interested and intrigued that we do everything on the farm ourselves. We have always grown potatoes on the family farm, and prior to launching Ogilvy, we supplied them solely to the supermarkets. We have very high standards in the production of our potatoes and can trace exactly what field the potatoes come from – even to the extent of the date and time they were harvested. This was an aspect that we were really keen to demonstrate in our spirit. It sets us apart from many other spirits on the market which don’t have this level of provenance.

MoM: Could you talk about the flavour nuances associated with the raw ingredient?

CBJ: The variety of potato that you use to produce spirit has a huge bearing on the final flavour. We are not only a single estate product, but we are also a single varietal spirit. We trialled various varieties in our early stages of developing the product, but for us, Maris Piper potatoes had the best flavour. We don’t blend with other varieties to ensure we get consistency to the flavour of our vodka. The other factor is our fields, we are based in Angus which is an area renowned for growing potatoes. Potatoes need just the right amount of sunshine and rain at the right times to ensure a good crop, and we generally have a good mix of both here. We also have exceptionally soft water, and the mineral content of the water has a part to play in the final texture of the vodka. 

Miranda Dickson with a musician

Absolut Elyx, Sweden

While Absolut’s famously makes all its vodka using winter wheat grown in Skane (Southern Sweden) the wheat that goes into Elyx is sourced exclusively from one estate. A giant underground aquifer beneath the Åhus-based distillery provides limestone-filtered water on tap We spoke to Miranda Dickson global brand director for Absolut Elyx: 

MoM: How far does your ‘field to bottle’ ethos extend?

Miranda Dickson: Unlike many other vodka brands, Absolut Elyx is produced by us from seed to bottle using ingredients and facilities within a 15-mile radius. It’s made from winter wheat grown on one estate; the Råbelöf estate in Southern Sweden. Our production allows us to have complete quality control and traceability of our product throughout the entire process. Most vodka producers – around 99% – buy neutral grain spirit which they then rectify to their own recipe. 

MoM: To keep the nuances of the raw ingredient in high-alcohol spirit, are there any special techniques or extra steps you have to use?

MD: We’re very lucky that the master distiller and creator of Absolut Elyx, Krister Asplund, is an extremely talented distiller with over 35 years of making Absolut Vodka. The nuances and characteristics in Elyx are really controlled by the hand of the maker and the quality of the ingredients. We don’t filter Elyx – other than a barrier filter to remove any hard particles from the production process – so it requires real skill to ensure the consistent taste and flavour profile of the distillate. Since Elyx is made using a fully hand-operated still from the 1920s, a thorough organoleptic tasting is conducted by our  team of seven at every stage of the process.